Thursday, December 13, 2018


Last week I had a training session on Capi that I really wasn’t happy with--I did achieve my throughness goal, but it wasn’t how I wanted it to feel.  I noted the tension and pressure, and decided to try a new plan the next day. I finished the rest of my day, taught my lessons, rode my other horses, chatted with staff and clients, then turned my phone on silent and had dinner with a friend.  The next day I got on with my new plan at the ready, but I didn't need it. Apparently Capi had gone back to his stall, thought about it, and he decided yesterday’s work was just fine. He happily agreed with me on this whole throughness idea. We had a much more relaxed, productive ride.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write that paragraph.  I would have spent the rest of the day, the entire evening, and the night riding and re-riding the training session, beating myself up for every part that I could have done differently. I would be sure it was entirely my fault, and not that Capi just needed a night to process. My self-criticizing would have so embedded itself in my thoughts that it would add a sharp snap to my conversations, because how dare you interrupt my self-flagellation?  By the time I got on the next day, I’d be convinced I should give up this dressage thing and go get an office job.

Last December was a turning point for me. I spent the better part of 2017 in emotional turmoil. By December, my body had enough.  I had an autoimmune reaction to a common antibiotic, one I've taken many times before, that nearly killed me. While I was literally tied in bed in the hospital, waiting to see if the drugs were going to work in time, I had time to think.  I came to a decision. I decided it was time to start living a full life.

Which was going to be a big shift.  Horses are a performance industry, steeped in the “what have you done for me lately” idea.  An industry where being busy is a status symbol. Dressage trainer’s coffee talk at shows is about how many horses are in your barn, how many students do you have at a show, how many clinics are you teaching, how many horses in training, etc.  Trainers brag about not having a day off for weeks on end. Then we wonder why we are burned out and impatient.

In a job where I willingly pay to be judged, it’s no surprise I was always judging myself and always coming up short. So I’d work more. Which made me tired and judgmental and hard on myself.  So I’d put in more hours. And so the cycle continued, until I felt like I was nothing more than my job.

I needed to learn to see myself as more than my professional identity. Sure, I have spent many years building and running a training business, but that is only part of who I am as a person. I needed to embrace the non-horse parts of myself as beautiful and worthy of my attention as well.  

They say “turn your passion into your job and you’ll never work a day in your life.” They say “work harder and you’ll achieve more.”  I think that’s bunk. If you work hard in a job you love, giving pieces of yourself every day with no time to refill, you’ll get burned out and bitter.

I had to do what I thought was impossible.  I let go of the guilt of taking time for myself.

Once that was acknowledged (but not fully conquered, that will take a lifetime), I started tracking my work hours, including the time spent at my desk.  The number was a bit staggering. I took a deep breath, and decided that some marketing and office work would just have to wait. This was, and still is, very difficult for me, leaving work for another day.  But I’m learning to do it.

I simplified some of my office work and delegated more.  I looked at all of SFD’s tasks, decided what was important to me and embraced those things.  Those things centered most around training, competition, and education. Then I looked at my staff, and handed them the other parts of my job, parts I thought they’d be good at.  Then I took another deep breath and trusted the people I had entrusted.

I decided it was time to learn to manage instead of just work harder.  I started having regular meetings with Carly, my stable manager, where we talked about things like how to do scheduling and how best to manage the day-to-day horse care.  When we needed to do some hiring, I passed that along to her as well, and she hired and trained a team of people that work really well together.

Of course there were, and still are, growing pains. Times when I learned that I needed to be more clear on expectations, times when the new responsibility didn’t work out, times when the ball was dropped. But because I’m not so overworked and anxious, I can deal with most of them more calmly and with less self judgement.  

As part of my focus shift, when Kelsey, my assistant trainer, enrolled in part 2 of the L this summer, I gave her as much support as I could. In past years, I would have kept the SFD calendar cranking along. But instead, I let go of SFD’s schooling shows and educational seminars for 2018 and went with Kelsey to give her moral support as her scribe for her L exam.  Which ended up being quite helpful when I got an invite to fill a last-minute spot in an ‘r’ program in August.

This is Chicago's Cloud Gate, picture taken from inside looking up

These fledgling boundaries created time for other things I love, things that make me feel like a more complete person. I went home to see family, then spent a day exploring in Chicago. I ran in a few 5ks.  I went to Austin City Limits music festival. I stole away to NYC for an overnight to eat, walk the Brooklyn bridge, and see a show. I went hiking. I took a lot of pictures of things at funny angles. I learned some cooking basics and had regular dinners with friends.

Guess what? No one left my barn because I took a weekend off.  Even my highly-judgy-brain has to admit that my changes didn’t ruin SFD.  My business is solvent. I ended up with just as many All-Breeds Champion and Reserve slots as previous years. I was high up in Horse of the Year in Freestyle and brought home ribbons from Kentucky again this year.  Timecenter says SFD is giving just as many lessons as last year. I’m still riding multiple horses daily.

The best part is I'm enjoying it more.  

1 comment:

  1. What you have discovered is so important in achieving a happy, long and fulfilling life. It is called "Balance".